Hellogoodbye: Emo Doesn't Always Suck
Teenagers scare the living shit out of me
For a pop-music genre that prizes jumpy guitar-crunch hooks and obsessively collective scene-proliferation over scenery-chewing pomp and individual transcendent geniuses, MySpace emo has yielded shockingly few actual great singles; beyond "Sugar We're Going Down" and maybe a couple My Chemical Romance songs, I can't really think of any. So I just about dropped my bowl of Lucky Charms the first time I saw Hellogoodbye's "Here (In Your Arms)" video on Fuse a couple of months ago. Fuse, basically an all-emo channel, is usually just a quick stop between CMT and BET. Sometimes I'll get a fun little curio like Stefy's "Chelsea" or that Snakes on a Plane video, but I flip the channel as soon as I see some whiny dude with Rachel-from-Friends hair and multiple lip-rings furiously attempting to bare his soul to the camera. Emo still self-identifies as somehow punk, and so its practitioners usually feel some compulsion to scream or croak or howl against the music, willfully torpedoing their own listenability. Even Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, at their best, owe some stylistic debt to 90s skatepunks like NOFX. So "Here (In Your Arms)" caught me completely off-guard, in part because it couldn't possibly have less to do with punk. Evidently, I'm not alone in being impressed. This week, "Here (In Your Arms)" finally ascended into iTunes' top ten downloads list, and it's also made its way into Billboard's top twenty singles. If the song turns out to be a novelty hit and nothing more, it'll still be a great little novelty hit. But I hope the emo universe takes it as a way forward, one that the genre's been needing for a minute now.
"Here (In Your Arms)" seems to be getting most of its play on top-40 stations rather than mod-rock ones, which is appropriate; it's an emo band's take on uber-cheesy Euro-technopop. Frontman Forrest Kline mewls all his lovestruck lyrics through layers of filters, going straight-up vocoder on the chorus. The guitars are there, but they don't crunch so much as glisten and glide and twirl. The band has a drummer, but I'd be shocked if any of the percussion on the track came from an actual human. Really, the only thing the song shares with most MySpace emo is its bratty, charged-up enthusiasm; otherwise, it sounds something like New Order if they'd grown up in Southern California and no one had ever bothered to teach them British reserve. It's an absolute triumph, and that's a real shock coming from a band I'd pretty much decided to discount as soon as I became dimly aware of their existence. My only previous exposure to the band came when the cast of The Real World: Austin, in its infinite wisdom, chose Hellogoodbye as the one South By Southwest band it wanted to document as part of its MTV-sponsored job. (The one indie-rock chick wanted Enon instead; guh.) Kline appeared on the show doing barf-worthy nice-guy stuff like sheepishly playing acoustic songs outdoors. That, combined with the fact that they chose to name themselves after a horrible Beatles song, was enough to convince me that I'd be just fine without this band in my life; I'm happy to report that I was wrong. Some cursory research reveals that the band has been messing with synths and vocoders for a while now, but all of the other Hellogoodbye songs shoehorn that stuff haphazardly into neurotic bash-pop. "Here (In Your Arms)" makes good on their synthpop flirtations, turning them into euphoric liquid grace. If more emo sounded like this, I'd spend a lot more time watching Fuse.
In this week's iTunes top-ten, "Here (In Your Arms)" shares real estate with a couple of other emo-pop mutations. Fall Out Boy's "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" is a dizzy pileup of headrush popcore and tensile trance thump and totally inept gospel-choked event-rock; it's topped that chart since it became available for download. The Gym Class Heroes' "Cupid's Chokehold" is an ugly mess of sub-Atmosphere emo-rap. Both of those songs at least attempt to do new things with a genre too often content to go for endless repeat, but I'd be a lot more excited about them if they didn't both suck horribly. Compared to those two, "Here (In Your Arms)" is an effortless blast, never showy in its genre-splicing audacity. Hopefully, the emo universe is watching this song's ascent and learning a couple of things: bands don't need to go looking for a gold star whenever they do anything remotely ambitious, and that ambition tends to work out a lot better when it's put into practice in service of a good time.